The painting, Gladioli, by Claude Monet is temporarily on display in the Italian wing of the Detroit Institute of Art. Due to the renovations being made to the newer sections of the museum, only the “old”, main area of the museum is open to the public during the construction, so Gladioli had to be moved in order to be put on display Located on the right side of the main entrance the Italian wing is a one large room. Every available space on the walls is filled with paintings, and the center of the room is filled with sculptures. Tucked back in the far right corner of this room is our masterpiece, a spotlight from the high ceiling lights the work. At first glance the painting is unassuming and appears to be rather dull in it’s content and subject matter. Upon further review, one can begin to see the tremendous amount of skill and effort the artist has put into this piece. Up close the painting looks like a series of dots and random brush strokes, if one steps ten feet back the painting comes alive!
Painted circa 1876, by Claude Monet, Gladioli is an oil on canvas and it is currently covered with protective glass. The painting’s dimensions are 22 x 32.5 inches and is surrounded by a ten inch thick ornate gold frame making the entire work measure a substantial 30 x 20 x 3 7/8 inches. The painting depicts a women in blue, strolling along a path, in a formal garden, shaded by a green parasol. Pink, red and purple gladiolas, in full bloom, are in the right foreground. They are bordered by a low growing, coral colored flowers and small shrubs line the path. White moths fly amongst the flowers, and the angular dark shadow of a nearby building, that is just outside of the painting, lies in the left foreground. Behind the women in blue there are red roses growing up a lattice and a picket fence or gate is located just behind the gladiolas in the background. The path is interrupted by the square shadow of a nearby building, perhaps a gardening shed or the artist’s workshop.
Up close this painting appears to be abstract, with small brush strokes and dots of color. From close up, one also notices that the paint appears to heaviest on the flowers. One can see the large dollops of paint, which contrast the light brush strokes in both the figure and the low bushes and walk. The women in blue holds a green parasol this is outlined with light yellow, this appears to represent light reflecting on to the parasol, but also serves to outline the umbrella from it’s green background, which is also green. Based on information obtained from the Detroit Institute of Art’s web site, (www.dia.org), the garden is in Argenteuil, near Paris, and at the time Monet’s home. The figure is Monet’s first wife Camille, apparently she was a common model for Monet’s other works as well. One can begin to more fully understand the painting after one has understood more about the artist.
Claude Monet was born November 14, 1840, in Paris, France, the son of lower-middle class parents. He spent his youth in Le Havre, where he learned to do caricatures and landscapes. For the next sixty years Monet explored the effects of light on outdoor scenes. At age 19 he studied in Paris at the Atelier Suisse and served two years in the French military. In 1862 he joined a well known studio with other impressionist painters, such at Renoir, Sisley and Bazille. They gave public exhibitions of their work at a studio of a Paris photographer. Monet exhibited a painting called Impression: Sunrise, this painting lent it’s name to a new style of painting: “Impressionism”. His name continued to grow throughout the 1870’s as he developed his unique painting style and proceeded to sell his own paintings, forming his own group of collectors.
Monet loved to not only depict the outdoors, he felt that it was necessary to be outdoors when painting a scene that was outside. From 1871 to 1878 Monet lived at Argenteuil, a village on the Seine near Paris, here he painted some of the most joyous and famous works of the Impressionist movement, including Gladioli. In 1878 he moved to Vetheuil and in 1883 he settled at Giverny, also on the Seine, but about 40 miles from Paris. Having experienced poverty, Monet began to be successful, in 1890 he was able to buy his house in Giverny, which he had previously rented. In 1892 married the mistress, with whom he had begun an affair in 1876, three years before the death of his first wife. This was the same year that Gladioli was painted. Monet died December 5, 1926.
The Gladioli, although, impressionistic in style, is also representational, because it is clear that this is a painting of a women, in blue, taking a stroll in a garden full of gladiolas. Monet uses line in several ways in this painting, for example: the short hedges curve along the path clearly dividing the painting left of center. The shadow that lies over the walking path, with it’s defined lines, also shows the contrast of light and dark, ( _____________) another technique Monet uses to both define parameters and invoke mood. Although very few straight lines are used in Gladioli, the viewer is able to recognize the formal setting, which straight, neat lines normally imply. The hedge rows are neatly trimmed, and do not stray onto the path, the roses, though not as obvious, also seem to know their place, as does the women in blue.
The bold use of color in Gladioli, the bright greens, reds, pinks, corals and blues, are neither unnatural, nor do the detract from the form or style of the painting. The artist accomplishes this by his painting technique. The very small brush strokes and the impasto method of applying paint to his canvas, tends to mute his colors, giving them an almost blurry, soft quality, typical of the impressionistic style.
The artists perspective is also relevant in Gladioli. One can clearly picture oneself sitting back and watching the woman in blue stroll along the path of her garden. Later in his career, after Gladioli was painted, Monet concentrated heavily on small portions of larger images, his water lilies, for example were detailed works of much larger subject matter. In Gladioli it is easy to see that the artist is not showing the viewer the entire picture. The garden clearly extends farther back and to the right. The viewer cannot see the structure to the left of the painting, which is close enough to cast it’s shadow across the garden path. The path is much larger and longer than the viewer is shown, in fact the path continues up to the edge of the canvas. The viewer can imagine the garden area continuing out past the canvas.
In Gladioli, the space is primarily filled with the main gladiola and hedge lined flower bed. The mounded flowers occupy the foreground and are the main focus of this piece. The little open space that there is in this painting, Monet uses to emphasize to the viewer the light source to the left of the scene. Although filled to capacity with flowers and surrounded by a lattice wall, the space beyond the scene also plays an important role in this piece.
At first viewing the painting has relatively realistic proportions. The women in blue is clearly behind the flowers, further back in the painting on the path, while the gladiola bed is clearly closer up the path in front of her. Upon further review the hedge lined gladiola bed seems to be larger than life, when compared to the women in blue. The viewer may ask themselves: is it the women who is too small or is it the flowers that are too big? The diminishing size of the women in blue makes her appear farther back on the garden path than she may actually be. The vanishing point in Gladioli is very clear, one can make out a distinct line where the lattice wall meets the garden gate, slightly to the right of the center of the painting. The lattice wall seems to be over eight feet high, when compared to the height of the women in blue.
This may be the case, but it would seem highly improbable, considering it would make the adjoining half gate over six feet tall. The white moths flying around the mound of flowers are all relatively the same size and also contribute to the effect. One may speculate that Monet used this technique to emphasize all of the detail in the gladiolas, and perhaps the diminished size of the women in blue, his wife at the time, is representational of his diminishing feelings for her. The year Gladioli was painted is the same year that Monet met his mistress, which he later married, three years after the death of his wife.
Monet was a fanatic about light and his light sources, it is said that once when creating a landscape, he would not paint even the leaves in the background unless the outside light had turned to his exact specifications. The light plays an important role in Gladioli, it helps determine the time of day, the season, and the placement of objects not in direct view. One can tell from the shadows cast on the pathway, that it is either early in the morning or later in the afternoon. Upon examination of the flowers, it would not be outrageous to suggest that it is indeed later in the afternoon, as all of the petals on the flowers are open and the moths have gathered, as is the norm for this time of day. One may also deduce the time of year to be late summer, the gladiolas are in full bloom as are the roses, that would narrow down the time of year that Gladioli was painted to be late summer to no later than early fall. So with this information one may reasonably assume that the piece was painted on sunny afternoon, sometime in August or September. Monet’s use of light also contributes to the mood of the painting.
While Gladioli, may seem at first to be a pleasant representation of a women taking a late afternoon stroll in her garden, one may be able to ascertain the feelings the artist was experiencing while he was working on this painting or the feelings he may have wanted to invoke in the viewer. The shadows play an important role in conveying both mood emotion. The shadow of the unseen building that falls across the pathway suggests a looming mass that the women in blue is walking towards. The figure is looking away from the shadow on the path which may suggest that she is either unaware of the threat or unwilling to confront acknowledge the threat. As earlier stated the women in blue is Monet’s wife Camille, perhaps Monet is using this painting to work out the difficulties him and his wife were facing at the time. Perhaps the shadow directly represents Monet’s mistress. The women in blue keeps her distance from the shadow and well as averts her eyes, perhaps this was also how his wife dealt with the other.
Gladioli appeals to the viewer on many different levels, the subject matter is pleasant and familiar, and the concept is simple. The painting method that Monet uses is intricate and complicated, using large amounts of paint with small and precise brush strokes. One can either enjoy the image exclusively for it’s subject matter, or try to interpret a deeper or hidden meaning that the artist was trying to convey. Whichever way the viewer chooses to contemplate Gladioli, or any of Monet’s other works for that matter, there is no doubt that they will not be disappointed in both the skill level the artist possesses, or in the beautiful images he created with his unique technique.
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